Dragon Age II

I’ve played Dragon Age II once all the way through, and I’m nearly done with my second run.

The game has some serious—some would say (and have) fatal—flaws.

1)      The recycled environments are disappointing at first, and gradually move on to being completely distracting. I understand that taking the time to develop fresh environments for some of these quests would have lengthened development time, and the cost-to-benefit ratio was probably deemed too marginal to do so. Still, when every mansion and cave looks exactly the same, it really yanks a fella out of the story.

2)      The new inventory system is for the birds. For me, micro-managing my companions’ armor and weapons was a big draw in the first game, and here the process has been simplified to the point where it feels utterly arbitrary.

3)      Why do potions now require a cool down period? WHY??

4)      The in-game trigger to access doors and chests and obtain loot from fallen enemies is ridiculously touchy, so much so that finding the icon that signifies you can access these things involves making your character do the hokey-pokey for a minute or two before you see the icon letting you know that, yes, you can now get your shit.

5)      The Friend/Rival system seemed really arbitrary in some cases, making appealing to any given companion character’s interests in those situations a guessing game. I had this problem with Mass Effect II’s Paragon/Renegade system as well, for what it’s worth. Sometimes you say something you think will give you some brownie points with Companion X only to see a nice little +5 Rivalry.

6)      There’s a disconcerting disconnect between your character’s appearance and actions versus the reactions you get from NPCs. As an example, my mage saved a Templar from a particularly nasty Abomination using all the wicked magic at my disposal, only to have the Templar turn and remark that we need to keep an eye on mages because “they aren’t like you and me.”

7)      Some of the mini-quests involving collecting items from dead baddies and turning those objects into random folks for cash reward is pretty pointless and ultimately a waste of time.

8)      The final moments of the game do not provide an entirely satisfactory resolution to your time spent as Hawke. After nearly thirty hours questing and killing in Hawke’s boots, I wanted a bit more from the closing coda.

Having said all that…I loved this game. Not as much as I loved Dragon Age: Origins, perhaps, but that game has a really special place in my heart; not since Final Fantasy VII have I had so much invested in a game as I did in Origins. Still, while Dragon Age II is a definite departure in several critical ways, I found it a rich and satisfying experience. The more arcade-style combat was a hoot (particularly if you play as a mage), and while the gameplay is distinctly more like a JRPG (oddly, it reminded me a great deal of Final Fantasy VIII and X) and far less open-world than Origins, the story and world were compelling enough that I never felt it was an inferior beast to its predecessor.

Now, if you want a *really* SPOILER-filled look at the things I enjoyed most about Dragon Age II, feel free to proceed. Be warned: 1) if you have any intention of playing any of the Dragon Age series but have yet to do so, don’t read any further; and 2) this is more of a reaaally long essay than a review, so if you really couldn’t care less about those sorts of things, feel free to be on your way.

Still here? Then damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

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